By Megan Barnes
@meg_barnes on Twitter
Saying his futuristic high-speed underground system may be the only thing that could help alleviate “soul-destroying traffic” in Los Angeles, billionaire Elon Musk gave the public a better glimpse of his high-tech tunnel-digging project at an informal meeting in Bel-Air on Thursday.
Speaking to a group of several hundred residents at Leo Baeck Temple on Sepulveda Boulevard, Musk said he was more than 30 minutes late to the meeting because he was “stopped on the damned 405.”
Musk’s unprecedented town-hall style meeting on the efforts of The Boring Co., his Hawthorne-based tunnel-digging venture aimed at easing Southern California auto gridlock, issued passes to his meeting on the Internet but they were snapped up in mere hours.
“The fundamental issue we face is that so much of our life is in 3D,” said Musk. ” You’re in a tall building in a dense office environment and then we go to this two-dimensional plane of streets. And the consequence is obviously that you are losing an entire dimension.”
The crowd included enthusiastic Musk fans wearing his Boring Co. and SpaceX companies’ gear, skeptics and just-plain curious Westside residents.
Musk and Steve Davis of the Boring Co. discussed the technology used to dig tunnels, shared video renderings of what’s envisioned for the system and took questions from the public about the challenges they’ll run into.
They stressed how the system is different from subways, saying it won’t make frequent stops or let on large concentrations of people.
“This would have dozens or hundreds of stations that would only put a small number of people out at each station and not create a traffic jam at each point,” Musk said.
Trips will only cost about a dollar, Musk said, and the stations at Los Angeles International Airport would lead to individual terminals.
Responding to criticism that the city of Los Angeles exempted the test tunnel from environmental reviews, Musk said the full system will have a full EIR performed, and that the idea is to not even be noticeable by the public.
The tunneling won’t interfere with utility lines, Musk vowed, and won’t be dug directly beneath homes or businesses.
“The goal is that we’re invisible,” he said.
His Loop system will take passengers from Dodger Stadium to LAX in 10 minutes, according to the presentation, from the Getty Center to Union Station in 12 minutes, and from Staples Center to Carson in eight minutes.
Musk said doing the north-south tunnel in L.A. and the east-west tunnel in Hawthorne will give the company a “good cross-section” of the region’s geology.
In the Westside neighborhood where Thursday’s meeting was staged, two groups are trying to stop the city of Los Angeles from letting Musk build his 2.7-mile “proof of concept” tunnel without having to go through lengthy environmental reviews.
A lawsuit filed May 2 by the Brentwood Residents Coalition and the Sunset Coalition argues the city violated state law by exempting the initial tunnel from environmental analysis, effectively fast-tracking the project.
Culver City leaders are also considering a legal challenge.
Musk’s all-electric system would move passengers at speeds up to 125 mph on rectangular pods attached to autonomous skates affixed to a track 30 feet underground. He dreamed up the system to get around L.A. traffic in December 2016, and later began digging a two-mile test track in Hawthorne.
That tunnel, which runs west under 120th Street from SpaceX headquarters toward the 405 Freeway, is “almost done,” Musk said last week, and passengers will be able to take free demonstration rides “in a few months.”
The track would connect with the Westside tunnel, which The Boring Co. has gained preliminary approvals to begin digging at a former lumber yard just east of the 405 Freeway.
A full system — which would need approval from the L.A. City Council — would run from Sherman Oaks to Long Beach Airport along the 405 Freeway, offering short, complimentary routes from Los Angeles International Airport to Dodger Stadium, and out to the beaches in Santa Monica and the South Bay.